According to a press release published on Monday, SC Labs has acquired C4 Laboratories, a cannabis testing lab located in Scottsdale, Arizona. The acquisition means SC Labs has expanded their footprint into five states total. Originally based in California, the cannabis testing company now has locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon.
Ryan Treacy founded C4 Laboratories and has been a vocal advocate for product safety testing since 2016. As CEO of the company, he led the laboratory through regulatory upheaval and a lot of changes the state has seen since legalization. He also co-founded the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association and led lobbying efforts on behalf of patients and stakeholders to require lab testing.
He says they are excited to join forces, becoming the largest cannabis testing platform in the US. “Our combined leverage of top scientists with specialized cannabis testing knowledge and a leadership team of industry experts will allow us to do everything from harmonizing R&D efforts to improving the data experience to pushing for positive regulatory change,” says Treacy. All current employees of the C4 team will stay on, joining the new SC Labs team.
This acquisition represents another important milestone for the SC Labs expansion plan. Last year, they hired a new CEO, Jeff Journey, and launched their national hemp testing partnership based in Colorado. That, coupled with the expansion through Can-Lab into Michigan last year along with the C4 acquisition, SC Labs has expanded into three new states within the last twelve months.
Journey says they’re thrilled to acquire the C4 team and that they have shared values, a proven track record and good expertise. “With this acquisition, we can continue to expand best-in-market cannabis testing services and the opportunity to service multi-state growers and manufacturers,” says Journey. “It is truly an exciting time for growth, and we know that the C4 team will be an invaluable addition to our team, culture and operations.”
As the former CEO of Partner Colorado Credit Union (PCCU), Sundie Seefried has been in the credit union space for 39 years. Established in 2015, Safe Harbor Financial is now a leading provider for banking and financial services in the cannabis industry.
Seefried founded Safe Harbor as a cannabis banking program for PCCU, and since then it has withstood scrutiny of 16 separate federal and state exams. Entering its ninth year as a cannabis banking program, they have almost 600 accounts in 20 states and have processed over $14 billion in transactions for the cannabis market. In September, Safe Harbor began trading on Nasdaq under the symbol SHFS. The company has also announced a definitive agreement to acquire Abaca, an industry-leading cannabis financial technology platform.
Seefried has seen it all in the cannabis banking world. We wanted to get her thoughts on some current events, the future of cannabis banking and lending, and what the next few years might hold in store for an industry ready to grow.
Cannabis Industry Journal:Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and how did you find yourself in the cannabis industry? How did you get to become president and CEO of SHF?
Sundie Seefried: I’ve been in banking in the credit union space since 1983. I became CEO of Partner Colorado Credit Union in 2001 and stayed there for 21 years. Everything I do, I have a very conservative nature just from being in the banking world and doing things methodically and building good foundations that endure long term. In 2014 when FinCen issued guidance, I was supposed to retire, and I had dinner with some old friends that were attorneys who couldn’t get bank accounts for their clients in the cannabis industry. They asked me to help and I looked into it for them. I assumed the regulator would shut me down but he didn’t; he actually encouraged me to move forward and look further into things. As I educated the board, we saw just how unsafe Colorado was and the serious need for the community to figure things out with respect to banking and cannabis. Coming from that credit union perspective, I said I think we can do this, let’s try and I’ll go through the third parties necessary. And that’s how we got into this, just looking to try and help solve Colorado’s problems and get banking access for cannabis companies.
CIJ: Tell me about your company’s mission. What is your financing strategy in cannabis and of the companies you do business with, what do you look for most?
Seefried: Our mission remains the same, and that is to normalize banking in the cannabis industry as much as possible. Because the black market still exists, the issue becomes sorting the legal entities out from the illicit actors in the industry. We know that the illicit market is trying to hide amongst the legal environment, which really makes things difficult for upstanding cannabis businesses. We can normalize banking by making sure we help legitimize the compliant entities and sort out the bad actors. We really only want to work with legitimate players with licenses, who are fulfilling expectations on the regulatory level and have no problems with compliance. We have been able to do that on the depository side.
We have always been a low-cost provider and our clients count on that. As we move into the lending part of the industry, we’re looking to do the same thing. There are lenders who charge one-to-three percent per month, 18 to 36 percent per year. We, on the other hand, are targeting more of an eight to thirteen percent annual rate. More of a conservative approach. Real debt underwriting. No extremely high interest rates. We look for the collateral, we look for well-organized businesses and solid documentation. Those are the businesses we are trying to bring into the fold and offer them normal loans. Cannabis will always have a premium on it simply because it is illegal at the federal level and there are additional hoops we have to jump through. Because of the potential forfeiture and seizure, if there are bad actors, etc., it really behooves any clients coming to us to also place their depositary services with us so we can prove their legitimacy and provide loans to them.
CIJ: Let’s talk about the Canopy Growth news. They announced they are pulling the trigger on acquiring Wana Brands, Acreage Holdings and Jetty Extracts, under the Canopy USA holding company and ahead of federal legalization. On the surface, it looks like they are bypassing a lot of the hurdles American cannabis companies currently face with financial red tape. As a foreign company trading on the NASDAQ dealing with a schedule 1 substance, do you expect Canopy to have a significant, some would say unfair, competitive advantage with their early entry? Or is this perhaps more of a rising tide lifting all boats scenario? What effect will this have on the current market landscape?
Seefried: I find it a very interesting move on their part. Certainly, they have a big advantage in comparison to other companies. The consolidation in the industry is moving so quickly. Other players will keep up with this just as fast as Canopy is moving in. That’s my opinion in terms of what I see in the consolidation area of the market. I think what it really hurts is small businesses. My heart goes out to them. So many of them worked so many years to build excellent small companies with boutique shops, and this whole move will really change that part of the industry.
I see a lot of these small players, non-vertically integrated companies, being impacted in a negative way due to such mass consolidation and the entry of foreign businesses. We need to get more competitive on a global level in order for our companies to grow and thrive. This happened back in 2018, when so many companies started doing those reverse takeovers onto the Canadian Securities Exchange and suddenly, they were putting tens of millions of dollars into the U.S. market. People didn’t see that as a competitive disadvantage for American companies, but now this move by Canopy may really show that we have to look at things more globally.
CIJ: Biden’s announcement regarding the scheduling review for cannabis has a lot of industry folks very hopeful that federal legalization is closer to a reality than before. Do you share their optimism?
Seefried: Closer than before, yes. But how close? I am not convinced it will happen quickly. If they are really going to consider rescheduling or descheduling, everything happens in Washington very incrementally. Eight years and seven attempts at the SAFE Banking legislation and still no movement on that front. Tomorrow, we’re going straight to legalization? I have a hard time swallowing that one. I just don’t see that big of a jump all at once. I think it is interesting coming just before the midterms and votes are really needed now more than ever.
What Biden did was a great start. Especially for those people in prison for possession. The interesting part of it is, we are very serious about people who have used it, but the people who have sold it and are in prison might be in the same situation. Given how the laws worked for so long, just based on the amount of cannabis you had could get you automatically labeled as a dealer, which isn’t the case for a lot of incarcerated folks.
The fact is, the social equity and justice issue, who do you free or who do you not free from prison, is a very difficult issue to get through. I think it is a great step forward and it will help some people who were treated unjustly, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I believe we’ll start seeing pressure from the global market on the United States to move things along a little faster in our own country.”As far as rescheduling, if they go from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, that will do no good, but it certainly is a bone to throw to the industry if you want to look like you are making some progress. Schedule II is still subject to 280E tax code so it will only do so much. If they want to make things more equitable and actually level the playing field, they have to do something about the 280E issue hindering every cannabis business in the country.
As far as full legalization, I am not optimistic because of all the players that need to be involved. Full legalization will require a change to the IRS tax code 280E as well as other tax issues. I think there are too many players: The DOJ, FinCen, the DEA, the FDA, the IRS. All of these agencies will have to agree on full legalization and moving forward in unison. The DEA is trying to fight illicit actors and illicit drugs. FinCen is trying to follow the money to find illicit actors. As long as there is an illicit market it will make their job tough, and on top of all of that, we have politics in play. That is just my take on legalization. It is going to be a much more complex problem than just legalizing the plant and moving on. Rescheduling seems like lower hanging fruit, but they will have to move it higher than a Schedule II.
CIJ: With the midterm elections here, there are a number of legalization measures in a handful of states, along with political control of Congress on the ballot. How do you think a Republican or Democrat controlled Congress will affect cannabis legalization progress?
Seefried: I just finished doing some lobbying in September in DC and spoke to some Senator offices in person, and I heard a lot of interesting topics being discussed. One of the things that keeps popping up is that social equity and justice is a huge issue. If we can’t solve this injustice in our system that has been going on for decades and decades, maybe they’ll hold banking legislation hostage. You can’t correct 50-60 years with one piece of legislation. Everything has to be incremental, unfortunately, so there will be some give and take there. I think that was a primary focus, especially with the Democrats and I do think it is a worthy cause.
On the Republican side, economically improving our competitive advantage as a country. They are starting to see the jobs being created and the tax revenue coming in and the growth of the industry. They will have to make that decision at some point in time whether they are going to leave the American cannabis industry behind or allow them to compete on a global level. I really think everything will move slowly and continue as it has happened in the past.
I believe we’ll start seeing pressure from the global market on the United States to move things along a little faster in our own country.
CIJ: As we inch closer to 2023, what do you expect the next year to offer for the cannabis financing market?
Seefried: I would say, with or without legislation, they’re finding greater access to banking. And the reason they are getting better access to banking is because none of us have been prosecuted for simply engaging in cannabis banking. I think we have set a precedent over the past eight years, not only us but other service providers in the industry and that we are not being prosecuted.
I see more financial institutions entering the market slowly. The second reason access to capital and banking will increase is because every financial institution in the country wants that lending relationship. In order to get there, they want to start with the depository relationship, and they don’t want smaller players presently doing it and getting all of those relationships before they enter the market. I think the competitive nature of the financial industry to land that lending relationship is going to force them into the game sooner than later.
The success of reputable cannabis and CBD brands has inspired an influx of inexperienced and disreputable competitors in the market. These so-called “bad actors” in CBD advertise products that are not manufactured under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which help to ensure that all products are consistently produced and controlled according to specified quality standards. cGMP helps guard against risks of adulteration, cross-contamination and mislabeling to guarantee product quality, safety and efficacy.
CBD products without cGMP regulations are often inaccurately labeled and deceiving to consumers. In fact, in a test of over 100 CBD products available online and at retail locations, Johns Hopkins Medicine found significant evidence of inaccurate, misleading labeling of CBD content. The prevalence of such brands not only reduces consumer confidence in CBD but also limits the growth of the sector as a whole. Fortunately, CBD consumers and retailers can easily discriminate between a well-tested, reputable brand and inferior bad actors with a few straightforward, minimum requirements to look out for when selecting a product.
Why are “bad actors” a problem for consumers and the industry?
Bad actors in CBD sell products that are not produced under cGMP conditions and are typically not tested by third-party laboratories to ensure identity, purity, quality, strength and composition. This means they are not verified for contaminants, impurities, label claims and product specifications. This frequently results in misleading advertising with inaccurate levels of cannabinoids or traces of compounds not found on the label, like THC. To combat this, the FDA issues warning letters to actors that market products allegedly containing CBD—many of which are found not to contain the claimed levels of CBD and are not approved for the treatment of any medical condition. Still, bad actors manage to slip through the cracks and deceive consumers.
Bad actors that put anything in a bottle and make unsubstantiated medical claims hurt the reputable operators that strive to create safe and high-quality products. It is easy for consumers to be drawn to CBD products with big medical claims and lower prices, only to be disappointed when the product does not produce the advertised results. Inaccurately labeled products may contain unexpected levels of cannabinoids, including ingredients that consumers may not intend to ingest, like Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC. Along with unexpected levels of THC, many CBD products available now are not as pure as advertised, with one in four products going untested for contaminants like microbial content, pesticides, or heavy metals.
Further, inaccurate labeling of products and their compounds also prevents consumers from establishing a baseline impact of CBD on their bodies, leaving them vulnerable to inconsistent future experiences. Such a poor experience can turn consumers off to the category as a whole, drawing their trust away from not only the bad actors but also the reliable, reputable brands on the market. The saturation of the market with these disreputable brands delegitimizes a category that has only just begun to break down the stigmas, creating stagnation rather than growth as consumers remain wary of low-quality products.
How can consumers identify bad actors in CBD?
There are several simple ways to identify a bad actor among CBD products and make certain that both consumers and retailers purchase quality, reliable and safe brands in legitimate sales channels. To start, consumers should avoid all CBD products that are marketed with unsubstantiated medical claims. This is a significant area of abuse, as brands that relate any form of CBD product to a disease state, like cancer, should not be trusted. The science to support such medical claims has not been completed, yet, product marketing is years ahead of the evidence to support such claims. Unsupported medical claims could also mislead consumers that may need more serious medical intervention.
Additionally, consumers must review the packaging, which should include nutrition information in the form of a supplement fact label. The label should include the serving size, number of servings per container, a list of all dietary ingredients in the product and the amount per serving of each ingredient. All labels should include a net quantity of contents, lot number or batch ID, the name and address of the manufacturer, and an expiration or manufacturing date. These signs of a reputable brand are easy to look for and can save consumers from the trouble of selecting the wrong CBD product.
What to look for when selecting a CBD product
With this in mind, products from reputable, tested brands can be identified by a few key factors. Reputable CBD companies are already compliant with the FDA regulations on nutritional supplements, including a nutritional or supplement fact panel on the packaging—just like vitamins. The information in this panel should include all the active cannabinoids in the product, both per serving and package. Clear potency labeling allows consumers to confidently select products that suit their needs and understand the baseline impact of CBD concentration on their bodies, thus helping them to tailor their experience with thoughtful product selection.
Reputable brands also include a convenient QR code on the packaging, linking the product to a certificate of analysis that details the testing results to demonstrate compliance with product standards and label claims. In terms of specific ingredients, consumers should be skeptical of high concentration levels of “flavor of the month” minor cannabinoids, which are often associated with unsubstantiated medical claims. Current scientific research has set its focus on major cannabinoids like CBD and Delta-9 THC, leaving additional research necessary for understanding minor cannabinoids. Minor cannabinoids are typically included in full spectrum products at concentrations found naturally in the cannabis plant, which is a safer approach to consuming CBD until more research is completed.
Consumers should not let the existence of unreliable, untrustworthy brands curtail their confidence in the CBD sector—there are many high-quality, safe and trusted brands on the market. With a knowledgeable and discerning eye, consumers and retailers can easily select top-quality CBD products that millions of consumers have found to improve many aspects of their health and well-being. Looking ahead, clear federal regulations for CBD products that require mandatory product registration, compliance with product labeling, packaging and cGMP will be crucial in weeding out bad actors and will allow compliant companies to gain consumer trust and responsibly grow the CBD category.
The cannabis beverage market is expected to reach $2 Billion by 2026 and is growing at a rapid pace. In Canada, the market share of infused beverages grew nearly 850% since 2020, according to a recent Headset report, the trend is expected to follow in the States. Some traditional beverage companies are hesitant to jump in due to the niche branding and supply chain models needed to capture significant market share. Other adult beverage companies such as Vita Coco and Pabst are dipping their toes into the cannabis beverage market to capture early market opportunities.
Sales and marketing agencies like Petalfast, with a core team stemming from the natural foods and beverage industries, have already started cracking the code for cannabis brands by implementing systems straight out of those industry’s playbooks. This includes disrupting the CA market by becoming the first to implement a traditional three-tier distribution model.
We caught up with Jason Vegotsky, CEO of Petalfast to learn more about the cannabis beverage distribution market. Prior to Petalfast, Jason was Chief Revenue Officer at KushCo Holdings (now Greenlane Holdings), a role he took on after selling his butane supply company to KushCo.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Jason Vegotsky: I began my career in wine and spirits distribution, but I always knew I wanted to work for myself. My first foray into launching a business, raising capital and brand building was through my beef jerky company, Lawless Jerky, which I built and sold after five years. Drawing on my food and beverage experience, I quickly entered and understood the cannabis market. I launched a company called Summit Innovations that sold butane to producers making oil. I eventually sold Summit to KushCo Holdings, Inc. (now known as Greenlane Holdings, Inc.) and became their President and Chief Revenue Officer. Through that experience, I began to notice gaps in the cannabis distribution model. Petalfast was built to fill that gap, providing clients with exceptional go-to-market strategies, leading to increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Green: How does experience in natural foods and traditional beverages translate to the cannabis industry?
Vegotsky: The route-to-market strategy is similar to that of cannabis, and the industry can benefit from the knowledge and experiences of those who work in natural foods and beverages. The extensive regulatory history and long-standing distribution models of these industries can provide a framework that those in the cannabis industry can capitalize on.
Green: What is the current distribution model for the majority of cannabis beverage companies today?
Vegotsky: Cannabis beverage companies face significant regulatory hurdles regarding distribution. Transportation restrictions, state-by-state differences in THC serving sizes and packaging requirements, retail display and storage limitations, and consumer adoption are just a few examples of what cannabis beverage brands run into when looking to enter, compete or scale in a given market.
At Petalfast, we offer a tiered distribution model, and our clients get phenomenal distribution through our logistics partner, Nabis. Products are circulated to all of California’s dispensaries and delivery services, allowing brands to focus on what matters most: creating the highest quality cannabis products on the market.
Green: What is a three-tier distribution model? Why do you think the cannabis beverage market is ripe for this model?
Vegotsky: The three-tier distribution model is commonly deployed by alcohol and other traditional food and beverage companies as it provides each tier to scale their operations and focus on their specific services. The three tiers include the brand, the wholesaler (sales + distribution), and the retailer in this distribution model. Because cash flow is such a significant challenge in the cannabis industry, adding an extra tier by separating your distribution and sales is advantageous to brands as it decreases overhead and allows brands to have the ability to scale.
Green: What are the opportunities for smaller brands looking to carve out a niche?
Vegotsky: One of the benefits of working in an emerging market is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, learn as much as possible about the industry and find where gaps exist. Brand building in this space requires a deep understanding of the consumer and the overall culture — something that most brands are still trying to crack. If a smaller brand can effectively target a base within a distinct product category, it can be very effective in scaling within its niche.
Green: With big players from adult beverages dipping their toes in the cannabis beverage space, is consolidation inevitable?
Vegotsky: At a certain level, yes. Well-established companies will seek out acquisitions of smaller, successful companies, especially ones that are capital constrained, but buyers need to be aware that capital alone will not be enough. The culture of cannabis is very different from alcohol or other adjacent beverage categories, so the success of these big players in adult beverages will be linked to their ability to locate and understand the consumer and implement branding strategies accordingly. Adult beverage companies entering the cannabis market must also realize that the flow of product to retailers is not the same as in alcohol, so they will need to adjust accordingly. The cannabis-infused beverage market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2026, so alcohol companies looking to join this movement should start exploring their options now.
Green: What trends are you following in cannabis beverages? What does the future of cannabis beverages look like?
Vegotsky: Canna-tourism has grown to a $17 billion industry. With the rise in cannabis-infused beverages, we’re seeing an increase in creative consumption offerings, from tastings and food and beverage pairings to dispensary tours and bud-and-breakfasts.
Cannabis beverages are attractive to newcomers as they allow for easier control of the effects. Businesses that provide an experience similar to that of a wine or brewery tour can capitalize on new consumers looking to explore the benefits of cannabis in a controlled environment.
The modern consumer is also more health conscious, and with the increased availability of legal cannabis, many are replacing alcoholic beverages with the plant. There has been a reported decrease in alcohol consumption since the 1980s, and many now believe cannabis is safer than alcohol. This belief is especially prevalent among younger generations, leading to more users incorporating cannabis-infused beverages into their daily lives. How we socialize or unwind at the end of the day will start to look different, and brands will become market leaders by speaking to the varied needs of consumers.
Green: How does the industry get there?
Vegotsky: For one, federal decriminalization and removing cannabis as a Schedule I drug on the controlled substances list would help. Cannabis companies don’t have access to the traditional marketing playbook to promote their brands due to TV advertising and social media restrictions. To build brand awareness, businesses should focus efforts on the retail level. Engaging with consumers in-store allows brands to grab their attention and drive faster sales until other avenues open up. At Petalfast, we decided to invest in field and trade marketing to bring brands to life at the retail level. We do this better than anybody else, and we do it at scale.
Founded in 2018, Bespoke Financial is the nation’s first fintech lender focused on the cannabis industry. Led by a premier team of experts in the credit, technology and cannabis industries, Bespoke Financial has financed more than $800M in GMV across the US cannabis industry and is on track to deploy $1B by end of year 2022 via their revolving lines of credit. Bespoke’s financing empowers cannabis companies to increase purchasing power, remove working capital limitations and accelerate growth in a rapidly growing industry. The company is backed by respected venture capital firms such as Casa Verde Capital, The General Partnership, Greenhouse Capital Partners and Ceres Group Holdings.
Bespoke recently entered into a milestone partnership with Blaze as the cannabis industry’s first tech-enabled B2B lending product available in CA & MA. Through this partnership, Bespoke and Blaze will be the first to bring “Buy Now Pay Later” to the industry. With just the click of a button, vendors can utilize this BNPL feature by paying directly within the Blaze platform via Bespoke’s financing with a 60-day repayment term on all vendor payments while minimizing dispensaries’ reliance on cash transactions.
We caught up with George Mancheril, co-founder and CEO of Bespoke Financial to learn more about trends in cannabis lending and their unique partnership with Blaze. George was the company’s CFO prior to taking the CEO position in 2019. Prior to Bespoke, George was a VP at Guggenheim Partners in California.
Aaron Green: What does it mean to be a fintech lender in cannabis?
George Mancheril:Bespoke Financial is a first mover in fintech lending for the cannabis industry, equipped with a robust network of investors, industry expertise and a multi-year track record solidifying our credibility in the space. We are focused on working with established cannabis companies who can use our financing to unlock growth, profitability, and success in the near- and long-term future.
Cannabis lenders must navigate a complex web of both cannabis and financing regulations, specific to each state, while trying to identify good borrowers in a nascent industry comprised of new companies. This has caused banks, traditional lenders, and institutional investors to avoid cannabis despite the unique growth opportunities and economic potential of the industry overall.
Green: What makes Bespoke different from other cannabis lenders in the business?
Mancheril: Unlike the few cannabis lenders active in the market, Bespoke Financial combines best-in-class technology and lending products designed to address the specific financing needs of the industry to better serve our clients. Our tech platform offers a simple interface for our clients to easily access financing, monitor loan balances, and manage payments. Bespoke’s technology allows us to service a broad array of clients in numerous markets across the US, offering our clients a reliable financing partner for their immediate and future needs.
Green: What markets do you serve in cannabis? Are you able to finance plant-touching operations?
Mancheril: Bespoke works with cannabis companies across the entire supply chain within 15 U.S. cannabis markets, with the vast majority of our borrowers being plant-touching operations, Our portfolio comprises cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, dispensaries, non-plant touching cannabis brands, ancillary service providers and CBD companies. Our financing options have helped a wide variety of cannabis operations overcome working capital limitations and capitalize on new growth opportunities and increase profitability.
Green: You recently announced a “Buy Now Pay Later” partnership with Blaze. What problems do dispensaries have that you are solving for there?
Mancheril: As broader economic activity slows in the US with the threat of a recession impacting both businesses and consumers, dispensaries face supply, demand, and fundraising challenges:
Consumer demand challenges:
Cannabis consumers in 2022 are significantly more price sensitive than recent years for several reasons.
High inflation over the past 1yr+ has reduced disposable income for consumers in the US.
Post-COVID return to normalcy has allowed consumers to spend disposable income on many goods and services which were largely been unavailable since the beginning of 2020 (ie travel).
Concern about a recession and slower wage growth has further reduced consumer spending.
Illicit cannabis has always been the main competition for legal dispensaries with little enforcement or curtailing of black-market activity to note in the US.
New cannabis consumers are gravitating towards smaller (but growing) product categories (edibles, concentrates, infused beverages, etc.) as opposed to just purchasing packaged flower. Dispensaries must carry a wide array of products and brands in order to better attract and service new and existing customers.
Supply side challenges:
Mature cannabis markets, such as California, have been saturated with over supply since Q2 2021 leading to inventory build ups and declining wholesale prices for cultivators, manufacturers, and brands (collectively referred to as suppliers). In this environment, suppliers are offering discounts to incentivize customers (i.e. dispensaries) who can:
Purchase larger quantities more frequently to allow suppliers to move inventory before the product quality degrades.
Pay COD for purchases as cashflow and capital are very important for suppliers during periods of economic stress.
Dispensaries without the financial means to conform to suppliers’ preferences will be at a considerable disadvantage as they will continue to have trouble sourcing popular products at the lowest possible cost.
Cannabis’ federal illegality has resulted in a much smaller universe of potential capital providers. Once a potential lender or investor is identified, typically the application process requires time and resources to complete which puts dispensaries in an especially disadvantageous position. Large MSOs, who tend to attract most of the available capital, can rely on internal finance teams to source capital whereas dispensaries are much more constrained and require a simpler, faster, and easier application process.
Our partnership with Blaze to offer B2B BNPL to dispensaries addresses these challenges and more. With access to our financing, dispensaries are empowered with:
Fast access to financing without a lengthy application process, entirely housed within the Blaze POS’ platform
Dispensaries on the Blaze platform do not need to seek out lenders or weigh various financing options.
No materials need to be gathered for the application.
At the click of a button, dispensaries gain access to capital which they are free to use as they see fit with no obligation.
Easy to understand financing
No obligation: dispensaries have full discretion to use our financing only when they choose.
No prepayment penalties or additional fees.
Increased purchasing power, enabling dispensaries to
Carry a wider array of cannabis products and brands to better service consumer needs.
Purchase a higher quantity of inventory from suppliers to qualify for volume-based discounts.
Pay COD for purchases to qualify for early payment discounts.
Offer lower prices to cautious consumers as a result of these discounts, thereby increasing sales and gross profit while strengthening their relationships with suppliers.
Green: Can you explain your decision to launch in CA and MA first?
Mancheril: While our ultimate goal is to offer B2B BNPL in all legal cannabis markets, we launched in CA and MA first because these states represent the largest and fastest growing markets in the US respectively. California was the first state that both Bespoke and Blaze launched in individually, so it was a natural starting point for our BNPL partnership. Massachusetts’ continued growth is compelling for any service provider and we believe our BNPL financing will be as successful addressing the needs and challenges in this newer market alongside those in more mature states.
Green: What trends are you seeing in US cannabis debt financing?
Mancheril: Since 2020, we’ve seen many MSOs increasingly rely on debt financing as opposed to equity capital. MSOs accounted for over ~80% of the debt raised over the past 2 years despite only representing a fraction of the broader cannabis market. Additionally, commercial real estate financing options for cannabis companies have increased over the same time period, driven by the growth of cannabis focused REITs. In general, by the end of 2021, we saw an increasing number of debt investors focused on higher yields participate in cannabis deals.
The recent macroeconomic volatility, increase in rates, and widening credit spreads in 2022 have slowed and slightly reversed the trends seen over the past 3 years. While banks and traditional lenders continue to wait for federal legalization, the vast majority of cannabis companies continue to have very limited access to debt financing options. Over the past quarter, we have seen debt investors leverage the recent illiquidity to negotiate higher interest rates and equity components in new debt deals, a trend we expect to continue until the broader economy strengthens or federal legalization gains traction.
At Bespoke, we empower entrepreneurs to grow their businesses without having to surrender control of their companies or visions. We are excited to continually be market leaders addressing this very vital need for cannabis companies of all sizes in all market environments.
Green: What trends are you following in US regulations and emerging markets?
Mancheril: The most recent headlines have been mixed for US cannabis regulations. Federal legalization is a huge point of focus with SAFE Banking failing (again) to survive the US Senate while the introduction of the revised CAOA offers a glimpse of hope. We believe federal regulatory changes will continue to be debated and discussed without any meaningful progress over the next 2 years but the current discussion of the CAOA revisions will provide the best insight on lawmakers’ priorities. On the local level, the list of states with adult-use sales continues to expand and we would expect to see a handful of new markets ushered in by voters in 2022.
Green: What would federal legalization mean for the cannabis lending industry? How do you stay ahead of the curve?
Mancheril: Federal legalization can occur in a variety of ways, including rescheduling cannabis (currently Schedule 1), descheduling cannabis entirely from the CSA, deferring to state specific regulation, implementing a national cannabis regulatory framework, or some combination of all of the above. The complexity of future regulatory changes makes the timeline for legalization difficult to forecast but we believe that the path forward will be comprised of multiple legislative changes over a number of years as opposed to a comprehensive reform addressing all the relevant points at once.
Based on the interests and goals of all stakeholders in this conversation, we believe that:
Cannabis de-scheduling or rescheduling is unlikely to occur before 2025
Any federal legislation which is approved will require long transition periods for new rules to be finalized, implemented, and adopted by relevant stakeholders (state regulators, courts, cannabis operators, financial institutions, etc.)
Federal lawmakers may allow for financial institutions to service the cannabis industry prior to de-scheduling through limited scope legislation like SAFE banking
Federal legislation will have a difficult time balancing deference to state specific cannabis regulation while enabling federal agencies such as the FDA and Treasury department to issue guidelines and rules for the broader industry. Too much federal agency interference will jeopardize existing & functioning cannabis markets while too much deference will impede vital oversight and consumer protection.
We believe interstate commerce will not be allowed immediately following federal legalization. Interstate commerce will benefit larger MSOs and states with mature cannabis markets (which are hampered by oversupply) at the expense of smaller single state operators and new markets. State governments are motivated to legalize cannabis in the pursuit of tax revenue and economic opportunity for their constituents, both of which would be significantly reduced for newer markets competing with out of state operators.
Regardless of which path federal legalization takes in the coming years, the net benefit for the industry overall will be clear. Setting aside the societal benefit from expunging criminal records for non-violent offenders and freeing enforcement agencies to focus on more serious issues, any progress towards legalization would significantly reduce the challenges that cannabis operators face today. Cannabis companies will see a reduction in operating expenses, a wider array of options for basic business services like insurance and marketing, and an increase in consumer demand as the stigma of illegality fades into memory. Allowing banks to service the industry would remove cash as the primary form of payment, entice larger pools of capital to enter the cannabis market, and in general de-risk the industry tremendously. Bespoke will continue in our role as market leader and cannabis industry advocate in this new paradigm by empowering our clients with even greater access to the capital and services vital to their continued success.
The cannabis industry operates in a legal gray area between federal restrictions and state legalization in a constantly changing regulatory environment. Maintaining payroll and HR compliance is a burden cannabis companies face that grows exponentially with geographic expansion of the workforce.
Würk allows cannabis companies to manage payroll, human resources, timekeeping, scheduling and tax compliance, minimizing compliance risks in the ever-changing cannabis regulatory environment. The company uses its expertise and trusted partnerships to provide guidance on 280E tax law, accounting and banking. Its platform is designed to scale nationally with the growth of the industry while incorporating the local laws and regulations unique to individual states. Their clients include Cresco Labs, Canndescent and NUG.
We caught up with Scott Kenyon to ask about Würk’s approach to human capital management, challenges facing cannabis businesses and industry trends. Scott sat on the Board of Würk before becoming its CEO and chairman. Prior to Würk, Scott held leadership roles at Dell and Phunware.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Scott Kenyon: My wife and I were early investors in a few companies in Colorado and Nevada. From early on (this was back in 2015) we learned the hard way of cannabis and how difficult it is to run these businesses, especially in those early days. We’ve progressed a ton over the years, but it’s still very difficult to run cannabis businesses.
I joined Würk about five years ago as a board member. I came on as CEO at the beginning of 2021 after our founder and previous CEO Keegan Peterson, who was an early trailblazer in the industry, passed away. So, I’ve been CEO at Würk for about 18 months.
Green: Tell me about Würk and the main problems you’re trying to solve.
Kenyon: Early on we were focused on establishing getting out of the cash business for these cannabis companies. Allowing them to pay payroll, taxes and be tax compliant electronically was a huge early advantage for us as a company. Now, fast forward seven years later and a lot of different banks (credit unions) are in the industry and that is allowing people to move money. So, that’s not as big of an advantage for us anymore, but early on that was huge.
Our advantage now is the scars on our back, for lack of a better phrase, from what we’ve gone through over the last seven years. We anticipate. We prevent. And most importantly we’ve seen all those problems for our customers. Last year, a big thing of mine was being “Smokey the Bear.” We want everybody to be Smokey the Bear: prevent fires and prevent issues for our customers. When I came in, we were the world’s best firefighters. I didn’t want that title. I wanted to prevent issues for our customers. That takes you from being a vendor to a partner.
If you look at it, on our platform we have 80% of the enterprise cannabis market, about 60% of the mid-market and then low single digits in the small business space. We have that market share because we provide invaluable experience and guidance to our customers. The biggest MSOs have different challenges from a “Joseph and Scott” dispensary, or a “Mary and Jane” grow facility. We’re able to adapt to all those different segments.
At the core of our product, we offer payroll services and what we call HCM – human capital management. That’s everything from scheduling, applicant tracking systems processing and paying your payroll taxes. So, we have the full gamut of product offerings that any type of HCM or HRIS software system does, whether you’re outside of cannabis or inside of cannabis, we’re offering the same thing.
Green: How does Würk differ from say a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)?
Kenyon: We aren’t a PEO. We don’t manage employees. At a high-level, a PEO is basically managing HR for these companies. Our platform enables HR professionals to go out there and do that. PEOs are more popular down in the small business space, because people are not at the scale to hire an HR team. We’re similar in that we’re processing payroll and have all the software that these companies need, but we’re different in that we’re not running their HR for them.
Green: How do you work benefits into the mix?
Kenyon: We leave it to the client, and we integrate their benefits provider into our platform so it’s an easy one-stop shop. We have single sign-on for a lot of our integrations. For the HR organizations, we want them to log into our platform and everything they need will be there.
Green: How is SAFE banking going to affect the HR industry in cannabis?
Kenyon: It’s going to be great for the industry, obviously. For HR specifically, it’s going to bring in more providers of payroll and more competitors for us for sure. But also it’s going to bring in more providers of services that can come in and offer that right now because of the federal illegalization.
Green: How does 280E affect your business and your customers?
Kenyon: We don’t guide people around 280E because that’s a tax specific matter. We refer them to their tax experts. We process payroll tax, which is different than what 280E affects. I think 280E was a big challenge, it’s still a big challenge, but that’s mostly because people didn’t really understand it. I think 280E was a problem five to seven years ago. In the last two years most companies are very familiar with it. That doesn’t mean 280E is the right thing. I think 280E is an awful thing. And while I think I hope SAFE banking is the first thing to fall legislatively, I think 280E has a good chance of getting across first.
On any given day my opinion on which will go first changes. I just want something to get across the line.
Green: What are some unemployment and payroll challenges your customers face?
Kenyon: We really watch unemployment changes and changes in job descriptions or job codes. For example, if an unemployment rate changed, and that unemployed person moved to a different place, which happened a lot during COVID, that company needed to report that and they needed to collect the appropriate charges or taxes there.
Green: What geographies are you in right now?
Kenyon: As of January 1, we had people on our platform in 46 states and just under 600 different jurisdictions. So, even though cannabis isn’t legal in all those states, big companies have employees across the United States.
Green: How do you help your users manage compliance across multiple jurisdictions? That must be a complex undertaking.
Kenyon: Our platform automatically plugs into the states that have electronic notifications around laws, which most states do. In our tax department, we have certain group members that are experts, let’s say, in the west coast. So, we assign people to certain regions to ensure that they have the best knowledge.
From our support piece, where a lot of our customers come in, somebody might say, “Hey, I have a unique question for Utah” and we’ll say we have a person that is specialized in Utah, but we don’t force them there, we just give them the option. But in our tax queue, we actually direct the customer like, “Hey, here’s a Massachusetts Question, so that goes to a particular person because they are our Massachusetts expert.”
Green: How do you deal with timekeeping issues like overtime?
Kenyon: Well, our system does that automatically. Let’s say they’re working overtime in a state that’s difficult to keep time for like California. In the state of California, if they’re working overtime on a Saturday or Sunday or a holiday, that’s a whole different calculation than working longer on a Thursday night. So, our platform is made to automatically calculate that for our customers. There’s no manual adjustments or coaching happening there. We just follow the state law based on where the employees are.
Green: Are you seeing any unionization of employees within the cannabis industry?
Kenyon: There’s unionization in many of our states, I don’t know the exact number, but California being the biggest, there’s a lot of union representation. Illinois is probably the second biggest union state on our platform. I’m assuming New York will be once it becomes adult use.
Green: How does Würk approach cybersecurity?
“Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen.”Kenyon: Well, we approach it very seriously and I recommend everybody take cybersecurity seriously. We test our internal systems regularly. We test our employees through phishing scams. And we’re always just trying to educate our team on the risk that we have.
I can’t share specifically the prevention steps that we’re taking, but I can tell you we partner with some of the biggest experts and make sure that we’re following everything that they’re recommending. More importantly, we’re testing for human failures, because where most failures happen is with people.
Green: What trends are you following in the industry right now?
Kenyon: Any type of activity in Congress is going to be huge for this industry. So that’s something I always keep abreast of. The next thing that comes down the line which is tied to that is interstate commerce: How is interstate commerce going to really come into play? And how does that change this industry?
Within the industry, the big question is how do we combat the illicit market? Over the last five years, I’ve heard all kinds of different ideas. But in the end, I think we have to out-innovate the illicit market, and that’s what I’m most excited about.
There are new product categories, beverage being one that is starting to gain traction. How are these new products and new variations of the cannabis plant able to treat and help people in ways that we’ve never thought of? That’s part of out-innovation. I was reading an article today about new terpenes that were discovered and how 100 products could come from each one of those new terpenes. I think we’re just still at the tip of the iceberg of product innovation.
How do we fight the illicit market? I think that is just through coming up with new products that treat different illnesses and ailments, that allow customers to get away from pharmaceuticals. Cannabis customers don’t want to buy on the illicit market. They want to buy from a trusted source. It just takes time to make that happen. They’re not going to do it when there’s a huge price difference, but they will do it when there’s a huge product difference. And right now, our products are very similar to what you can find on the illicit market. You can find vapes, you can find gummies, you can find all that in the illicit market. We’ve got to out-innovate the illicit market.
Green: What in your personal life are you most interested in learning about?
Kenyon: I am the father of two teenagers right now and I really like to learn how to be a better parent to them because it’s really frickin’ tough!
According to a press release published last week, SC Labs is in the midst of a multi-state expansion under new leadership. The company hired Jeff Journey as their new CEO, coming from a VP position at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Last year, in what seemed like an initial move to establish the lab on a coast-to-coast level, SC Labs developed a hemp testing panel that covers a number of contaminants on a national regulatory level. The hemp testing panel they developed purportedly meets testing standards in states that require contaminant levels below a certain action limit.
In the press release that was published last week, they hinted at another announcement coming soon: a new partnership with Michigan-based Can-Lab. This, coupled with hints at further expansion and their current presence in California, Colorado and Oregon, means Journey will have his hands full and his sights set on nationwide cannabis testing.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with cannabis and hemp brands at every stage of the supply chain to share our innovative and forward-thinking scientific expertise so they can deliver safe products to the marketplace,” says Journey. “As cannabis legalization expands across the country, the testing industry is rapidly shifting and scaling to meet both market and regulatory demands.”
The leadership team will still have a few familiar faces, such as Jeff Gray as chief innovation officer and Josh Wurzer as chief operating officer. “The most important assets we can offer as a multi-state operator are scientific expertise, financial stability, and unquestionable integrity, the principles on which SC Labs has long stood for and will continue to provide to our valued customers,” says Journey.
What do Aurora Cannabis, Tilray and Pfizer all have in common? They all produce and sell products used for medicinal purposes, they are top competitors in their field and they all have statements on their websites claiming that science is one of the most important things to their business. But unlike Pfizer, Aurora and Tilray do not have any positions in the executive suite for scientists or medical personnel. This led us to wonder, why does the structure of their corporate ladder (as well as so many other cannabis companies) not align with what they claim to be their values?
According to Aurora Cannabis, “Science is at the core of what we do”.1 Look up the definition of “core” and you will get “foundational, essential, central, and enduring.”2 Sounds important. Meanwhile, Tilray’s main page states: “For the therapeutic value and risks of cannabinoid-based medicines to be fully understood, Tilray believes it is critical to evolve current scientific understanding of the field.”3
You would assume that somebody in the executive suite would have a position and an educational background relating to the central and enduring part of a business, right? We looked at 10 of the biggest Canadian cannabis companies, their founders’ educational backgrounds and whether there were executive positions for science, R&D or medicine (Table 1). We also looked at the same data for the top 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies (Table 2). As expected, every pharmaceutical company had upper-level (C and/or P level) positions for scientists and/or medical personnel. However, only 2 of the 10 cannabis companies had this.
To figure out why this is, (as scientists) we did some research. It turns out, the consensus is scientists are bad at commercialization. Scientists are rarely successful as CEOs because they are (usually) not good at attracting customers and get confused by things like revenue models.4 As Akshat Rathi bluntly put it, “just because you are the smartest person in the building does not make you capable to run a company.” In fact, many CEOs of life science companies got to the top by pursuing business, finance, marketing or sales. In the 90s, some life science companies took a chance on scientists and hired them as CEOs, but when they hit financial turmoil, they quickly undid this.5
So maybe scientists aren’t always cut out to be the CEO of a company. But that still doesn’t explain why so few large cannabis companies have a chief scientific/medical officer, or even a president of R&D.
Maybe we are looking in the wrong place. Maybe their value of science can be demonstrated by their spending on research. Typically, a larger agricultural company will spend 9% or more on R&D, and a smaller company will spend 2-4%.6 Meanwhile, the major pharmaceutical companies we looked at spent between 12 and 25% of their revenue on R&D during their most recent fiscal year. Since a cannabis company falls somewhere in between we approximate they would spend around 9-12%.
However, Canopy Growth was the only company that fell into our prediction range, spending 10.5% of their revenue on R&D in 2021.7 Tied for a distant second place were Charlotte’s Web and Aurora Cannabis (a subsidiary of Tilray), spending 4.6%. At the very bottom were Tilray which only spent 0.16% on R&D and TerrAscend which spent 0.21% during their most recent fiscal year.8,9 With most of the cannabis companies, we saw a gradual decrease in R&D funding over time, which intensified with the Covid-19 pandemic.
So why the heck are these companies going on about how they value science? To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they do think they value science, but they don’t know how to value it.
It’s hard for a company to take actions that show they value science if there are no voices for scientists at the executive level. After all, how can you make decisions based on science if nobody in the room understands it? Sure, we saw the argument that people who make it to the top can “learn enough science to ascend to the executive suite without much trouble”.5 But what is “enough science”? The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell?
This leads to our argument for putting scientists in the executive suites of cannabis companies and giving them a more powerful voice. Whereas scientists are not good at marketing, those in managerial roles tend to overly rely on intuition – even when the evidence is against them.10 For those relying on intuition, R&D is an easy target during times of crisis (like a global pandemic). Cutting costs in R&D yields a short-term immediate increase in profit and the negative impacts are often not felt until years later.11 However, cutting R&D investment is the opposite of what you should do during a time of crisis. Evidence suggests companies that maintain or even increase spending in marketing and R&D and focus on operational efficiency (such as process optimization) are the ones that will come out as the top competitors in the long run.12,13 Having a chief scientific officer or an executive for R&D with a scientific background can help sustain companies by promoting R&D during hard times and indicating what projects will be the most promising to help the company optimize their processes.
Having a scientist in the executive suite can also help keep everyone in check. “Senior execs live in a feedback loop of positive reinforcement making them unlikely to question their decisions,” according to Stefan Thomke and Gary Loveman.10 They claim the best way for those in managerial roles to avoid over relying on instinct and break out of that positive feedback loop is by “thinking like a scientist”. This involves not letting bias get in the way of truth, studying anomalies, being skeptical, developing strong hypotheses, producing hard evidence and probing cause and effect. To add to this, we think a major part of thinking like a scientist is by having at least one high up in the team. In our own company, giving equal value to scientific voices has resulted in all parties learning and thriving by making fact-based decisions.
Finally, scientists deliver! To be a scientist (with a PhD), one must master the field, find a gap in the knowledge, then fill that gap – all for little pay and no guarantee of a job at the end. This makes them dedicated workers whose main goal is to contribute something unique to their field, or in this case, their company.14 Having someone up top who is dedicated, passionate, innovative and trained to look for gaps in knowledge can be an invaluable voice in the executive suite. They are likely to point out potential money-saving solutions (i.e.: optimizing extraction conditions) that others up top may not have thought of on their own.
If you feel strongly that science is at the core of what you do, and you already know that R&D is crucial for the long-term survival of your company, you are already on the right track. In addition to this, consider giving a voice to scientists at the executive level in your company. The cannabis industry is still in its infancy. This means there is potential for R&D in more than just new product development. Basic stuff like extraction, modifying plants to be heartier against harsh conditions and pathogens, curing and safety testing processes have all barely been studied and optimized to reduce costs. These things won’t be solved by a Juris Doctor, an MBA or even an engineer, they will be solved by scientists, and it will take a scientist up top to ensure the whole company recognizes the importance of these projects.
Table 1: Top cannabis companies stats on founders and their educational backgrounds, presence of scientific executive positions and spending on research and development
Definition of Core. Merriam-Webster Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/core?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld.
Tilray Brands WebPage. https://www.tilray.com/.
Rathi, A. Why scientists make bad entrepreneurs—and how to change that. Quartz (2015).
Mintz, C. Science vs. Business: Who Makes A Better CEO? Life Science Leader (2009).
Fuglie, K., King, J. & David Schimmelpfennig. Private Industry Investing Heavily, and Globally, in Research To Improve Agricultural Productivity. US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (2012).
Thomke, S. & Loveman, G. Act Like a Scientist. Harvard Business Review (2022).
Knott, A. M. The Trillion-Dollar R&D Fix. Harvard Business Review (2012).
Gulati, R., Nohria, N. & Wohllgezogen, F. Roaring Out of Recession. Harvard Business Review (2020).
Soferman, R. Why You Shouldn’t Cut R&D Investments In Times Of Crisis And Recession. Forbes (2020).
Madisch, I. Why I Hire Scientists, and Why You Should, Too. Scientific American (2018).
Havn Life Sciences Inc. Announces Appointment of Gary Leong as Chief Science Officer. https://apnews.com/press-release/accesswire/science-business-life-sciences-inc-aphria-inc-319a516963144b308d146d97dee0dc69 (2020).
Bruce Linton. Elite Biographies https://elitebiographies.com/biography/bruce-linton/.
Metrc combines a software platform with radio frequency identification technology to track plants and cannabis products from seed to sale. The track-and-trace model quickly became adopted by dozens of states to regulate their cannabis markets over the years, becoming an important standard in the industry.
With government contracts in nineteen states and counting, Metrc has become an omnipresent fixture in the United States cannabis market. States work with Metrc to provide their market’s traceability software for the entire supply chain, which helps prevent diversion to the black market, offers security and safety, aids in recalls and regulatory compliance tools.
We sat down with Michael Johnson, CEO of Metrc, to discuss retail challenges, regulations, cybersecurity, compliance and more.
Aaron Green: What are the major compliance challenges retailers face?
Michael Johnson: Major compliance challenges that retailers face will vary from state to state, however, we do see common themes across state lines. Financial services, for instance, has been a historical industry hurdle, as most big banks and credit card companies deny access to their network, making it difficult for retailers across the board – from bank account setup to limited customer and patient payment options to security issues when managing a cash-only retail business. The tides are starting to change with more credit unions and state-chartered banks opening their doors to the industry, along with new payment technologies for consumers to use instead of cash.
We also see common operational challenges, including inventory management issues due to human error, lack of consistent quality assurance, and product theft. Retailers regularly face strict packaging, labeling, and product safety laws along with requirements for public health, storage and sanitation procedures and additional layers of security and surveillance.
Finally, access to compliant and retail-friendly technology systems is important as it can have a major operational impact. If a retailer can choose, selecting the right platform will manage all their operational needs – from ID-scanning at check-in to inventory management to banking – while properly integrating with their state’s track-and-trace technology. That’s a major benefit and one that Flowhub brings to the industry, alongside Metrc.
Aaron: How does compliance for retailers differ from cultivators and manufacturers?
Michael: It is important to note that proactive compliance sits at the center of cannabis regulation. Not only does it ensure the maintenance of license(s) and overall businesses, it helps expand and enhance the industry as a whole. As a highly regulated sector, transparent and consistent compliance initiatives provide the necessary foundation for a safe and secure environment, strengthening all levels of the supply chain and the industry at large.
All industry players must adhere to specific licensing and documentation requirements – an expired or illegal license may lead to serious fines and carries the potential of losing the business. In a handful of states, employees may need a license as well. Real estate also comes into play for all license holders, with special cannabis zoning restrictions, such as requiring distance limits between select institutions.
Since retailers are customer- and/or patient-facing, they may experience unique operational requirements compared to cultivators and manufacturers, including ID-checking policies, customer or patient delivery laws, additional packaging and labeling rules, strict dispensation regulations, in-store and on-shelf product placement, retail signage, and product promotion rules, and more.
Just like retail, cultivation and manufacturing compliance will also vary across states, but with a host of additional compliance requirements to keep in mind – for example, biological, chemical, and physical hazards are something that play a larger role at facility operations, which are subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules. Other compliance issues to highlight on the cultivation and manufacturing side include state requirements on inventory reporting, security patrols, waste removal, and meticulous logging.
Aaron: What is your process for evaluating vendor integrations?
Michael: At Metrc, we maintain an efficient and consistent process for evaluating vendor integrations – an example of our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of legal cannabis markets.
First, integrators petition access into specific instance(s) by filling out a form with their basic information (business name, software name, contact info, etc.), along with any state-required agreements that must be signed. The integrator is then given a set of steps to perform in each instance requested. The steps provided are then evaluated by our API Support team. When all steps are performed accurately, the integrator is added into production and an API key is generated for their use. Licensees must also issue the TPI a User API key to gain access to the API. Overall, the process is a combination of meeting state, Metrc, and licensee requirements.
Aaron: Can you address the cybersecurity landscape METRC faces? What is METRC’s process for dealing with cybersecurity threats?
Michael: Cybersecurity threats are shared across industries and although not unique to Metrc or the cannabis sector, cybersecurity threats and the value of data continues to change. Maintaining strict safeguards around data privacy and the security is a top priority at Metrc and we keep a constant pulse on changes in the cybersecurity landscape, to maintain this safeguard for our customers, industry users, and Metrc as a whole.
Aaron: What trends in cannabis regulation are you following?
Michael: Cannabis rules and regulations are ever evolving, which is why it is vitally important for anyone in the industry to stay up to date. Examples of some we are following closely at Metrc include the SAFE Banking Act, Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, and Cannabis Administration Opportunity Act (CAOA); and more generally federal legalization, public health protection, and environmental regulations.
Aaron: What’s next for METRC?
Michael: We continue to expand our customer and user feedback loop to ensure our roadmap meets the unique needs of markets and an overall evolving industry/regulatory landscape. Examples include continued performance improvements, more robust analytics capabilities, user-driven functionality updates, and exploring the design of a more sustainable RFID tag.
At its core, Flowhub is a point-of-sale and compliance software company, but they offer much more than that. After becoming the first company to integrate with Metrc in 2015, the platform quickly became a leading software company in the space.
The system helps dispensaries manage inventory, report sales data to regulators, manage payment processing, manage workflows and simplify compliance. Following a few stints at Dixie Elixirs, Weedmaps, and Neos Vape Pens where he saw the day-to-day inefficiencies of cannabis compliance, Kyle Sherman launched Flowhub about eight years ago.
As Founder & CEO, Sherman and his team have taken Flowhub to the next level, with over 1,000 dispensary partners processing $3 billion in annual sales. We caught up with Sherman to ask about compliance challenges facing the industry, 4/20 sales data, integration technology and more.
Aaron Green: What are the major inventory and point-of-sale challenges that retailers face?
Kyle Sherman: Cannabis has yet to be federally legalized and the industry remains a highly regulated environment that’s subject to a patchwork of state and local regulations. Dispensaries face an influx of challenges compared to traditional retailers due to strict compliance requirements. Cannabis retailers are required to report all sales activities and inventory movements to their state regulators, sometimes in real time. If physical inventory does not match what has been reported to regulators, their license is at risk for suspension. Maintaining accurate inventory records across systems (including point of sale, Metrc, and ecommerce menus) is one of the biggest struggles we hear from retailers.
In addition to compliance, lack of financial services and support from large banks and credit card companies is a big challenge for the cannabis industry. This means most transactions in the industry are limited to cash. Managing such large quantities isn’t easy and it puts dispensaries at risk of theft, both internally and externally. While cash alternatives like ACH are becoming increasingly accessible, some retailers are choosing partners with predatory financial terms or those that don’t operate in compliance.
Flowhub’s point of sale software enables a dispensary to provide best-in-class customer experiences without worrying about compliance. The software is purposefully built for the cannabis industry, focused on making the jobs of dispensary owners and staff members as streamlined as possible. Flowhub also helps dispensaries hide the complexities of a cash-intensive industry by allowing customers to use alternative forms of payments at checkout, like ACH and Point of Banking. Cannabis businesses should be able to transact as easily as if they were selling coffee and doughnuts.
Aaron: We’re about a month past 4/20, how was 2022 different and how can retailers prepare for next year?
Kyle: 420 2022 was the highest cannabis sales day in history! Dispensaries brought in twice the revenue compared to an average Saturday which is typically the busiest day of the week.
While ecommerce has become a major trend for dispensaries since the pandemic, traditional retail shopping is still by far the preferred mode of purchasing for consumers. With loosening COVID restrictions, 420 2022 saw a return to in-store shopping and in-person events. We also saw that while flower still stands as the most popular product category, customer product preferences are beginning to shift toward alternative options like edibles, beverages, vapes and concentrates.
To prepare for next year, retailers should analyze their 420 data to understand customer preferences. Dig into customer demographics to find out who was shopping, at what times, and for which products. This information can be used to curate a strategic marketing and execution plan in 2023. With many dispensaries offering similar products, it’s more important than ever to have a distinct experience that differentiates from the competition. Consider forming unique partnerships, ways to give back to your local community and how you can facilitate a shopping experience others cannot replicate.
At Flowhub, you can track your dispensary analytics from your smartphone with our mobile View app. Retailers can see real time performance metrics including sales data (track your sales, before and after-tax, by product category, average basket size, and total number of transactions), employee data (see top selling budtenders for the most recent day, week, month or quarter), and inventory data (view total identified inventory discrepancies by room, or see your most popular vendor and products at a glance). With data at your fingertips, you can stay on the pulse of your business and more adequately prepare for key dates and specific times of year, like 420.
Aaron: Flowhub was the first to integrate Metrc. What synergies were unlocked with this integration?
Kyle: Flowhub has always been involved in federal legalization advocacy. In 2014, I lobbied the CO Department of Revenue to build an open API to Metrc. Integrating with Metrc opened the door for cannabis operators to accelerate workflows, increase accuracy and simplify compliance. Prior to the API, tracking and reporting cannabis sales was painful. We were all handcuffed to manual pen and paper processes. Flowhub paved the way for other software companies to integrate to the Metrc API which is now the standard for track and trace systems in most legal cannabis markets.
Aaron: What’s next for Flowhub?
Kyle: Flowhub is strategically growing alongside the cannabis industry. We’re looking forward to supporting newly legal markets like New Jersey, where AU is now legal. We also recently integrated with Aeropay to offer dispensaries compliant ACH payments. Later this year we’ll have some major product developments coming out that I can’t disclose just yet but they’re very exciting! Stay tuned.
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